I was up at the crack of dawn yesterday to do some baking for an event at our place. I test-baked an apple/hazelnut cake a couple of weeks ago, replacing hazelnut meal with macadamia meal – because that’s what I had in the pantry (doesn’t everyone?). It turned out pretty well (the texture and taste of the macadamia meal simply delicious) and I was pretty confident that it’d work out okay the second time around too… but, just in case, I prepared a simple vanilla/apple teacake to pop into the other oven as a back-up plan. It never hurts to be a bit over-prepared – and the guests usually eat every last crumb anyway 🙂

I find baking very relaxing – particularly when the house is quiet – and my mind soon drifted onto other things as I pottered away. I measured and mixed, stepping over and around the ever-hungry scrounge that is our puppy and thought about my daughter, fast asleep in the back bedroom. On Friday she received notification that the house that she and her partner have been working towards and dreaming of for so long is finally theirs. From land purchase though design, planning approvals and – most particularly – bank shenanigans, it’s been a long haul for them. The past week in particular had been fraught with anxiety as to whether the house would pass muster, resulting in the funds being released to the builders (by the ever-nit-picky bank). It did – and they both positively glowed as they gave us the news that night – and many spontaneous happy dances of bouncy joy and group hugs ensued. Such happiness all round.

After camping in two rooms at our place for the past 10 months, with a minimum of personal belongings to hand (the rest being in storage), they’re more than ready to move into their own space again. Unpacking all their belongings, sorting through them and rediscovering things they haven’t seen in months will be a bit like Christmas morning. They’ll be able to move their kittens into a whole house (instead of a small cat run), set up chook pens for their gaggle of poultry and plant out the vast array of trees and plants that have waiting in pots outside our front windows. It’s going to be great fun to watch the next stage of their Gallifrey dream take shape and to help out where we can.

Thinking about their unfolding adventure made me reflect on my own dreams and aspirations – and to contemplate where I’m up to with those. Just over a year ago I attended a workshop entitled How to Become a Must-Read Author. The rather ambitious title set the expectations of the attendees fairly high – and  Rachael didn’t disappoint. She entertained and inspired the crowd of writers and would-be entrepreneurs very effectively, telling her personal rags-to-riches story in an inclusive and forthright way, tossing in random humorous anecdotes to lighten things up and to retain audience attention. It was a very polished performance and went a long way to showing why she’s so successful. My friend Karen and I were both quite impressed and came away determined to move forward with our respective book projects, utilising Rachael’s write-a-book-in-12-weeks as incentive to do so.

Part of this 12-week process was to focus on our key objectives for the next couple of years. There are any number of ways to undertake this sort of exercise, but I found mind-mapping worked surprisingly well as a first stage. I wrote down all the things I could think of that I’d like to do, see, be or achieve – no matter how implausible. Then I grouped them into categories and looked at those in an attempt to see what bigger picture I was trying to paint for myself. From there I moved on to hunting down some pictures to represent the various categories and put together a vision board, printed it out and stuck it up in my study to act as motivation to achieve those vision board 2014objectives.

I’m not sure that having the print out on the back of my door helped in any real sense, since that sort of affirmation isn’t generally something that spurs me on. What was valuable, however, was the exercise of creating the vision board. It focused my attention on my wants and needs in a positive and proactive way. It made me actively consider how I could achieve the outcomes I wanted, rather than just dreaming about them.

So what have I achieved since then? It doesn’t feel like an awful lot, really – not until I stop and take an objective look at the past year. In reality, each of the key objectives on my two-year vision board has been addressed to some extent. From saving money to kitchen renovations, exercise to travel, hobbies to getting a puppy, completing my memoir to spending more time relaxing with people who matter to me – the current round of hopes and dreams is well on the way to being realised. Perhaps now that our house will be a little quieter, it’ll be time to set about a new round of mind-mapping and to come up with a whole new round of hopes and dreams to aim for.

raleigh bike.pgI was given my first bike when I was eight years old. It was shiny and black and a source of endless delight – not to mention unrivaled freedom.  It had no gears or hand brakes, but as I didn’t know any better, neither of these were an issue. What it did have was rather nifty mudguards (soon removed for convenience and speed) and simple back-pedal (or coaster) brakes that were dead easy to use. That little Raleigh bike was my most beloved possession from the very first day, despite crashing headfirst into a hedge down the road on my initial solo attempt at riding it!

From thereon out I had any number of adventures, big and small, wherever my wheels could take me. One of the more dramatic of these adventures started out very low key. My friend Felicity and I were about 10 years old at the time and, unlike many of the youth of today, we were assumed to be both capable and independent. Parents weren’t informed of our movements, we just trotted off on our merry way. As long as we were back by dinnertime and there was no obvious damage to explain, we were left to our own devices. In this instance we had planned a trip to the local shopping centre to hunt for Christmas gifts. It was a distance of about 2.5km and we knew from experience that this took about 30 minutes on foot, about 10 minutes by trolley bus, or about 12 minutes by bicycle. Ever the staunch Scot, I opted to save the bus fare and rode my bike up the (very steep!) hill to meet Felicity as she hopped off the bus.

Some time later, after purchasing what knickknacks our pocket money could afford and enjoying an iced confection in the park, we headed for home – Felicity hanging out the back of the trolley bus and me in hot pursuit on my trusty bike. I’d grown quite a bit in the couple of years I’d had the bike and it had become a little worn in that time. My brothers had taught me to fix punctures and how to put the chain back on when it inevitably came off, but they still did the tricky things like adjusting the seat height since this involved enough physical strength to tighten the nuts and bolts. Or so I’d always assumed…

As I careered down the hill in hot pursuit of the trolley bus, laughing like crazy and taking the sorts of risks that ten year olds do, it never occurred to me that anything could go wrong. Not until the trolley bus stopped a little sooner than I expected and, when I tried to slam the brakes on by back pedaling desperately, my feet came off the pedals!  The seat had tilted back rather dramatically as I applied emergency pressure on the brakes and it was pretty obvious that the saddle was, in fact, not properly secured. I was left clutching the handlebars, my behind only centimetres from the back wheel, my legs akimbo to avoid the chain and the wheels.

coasterbrakeNow, the thing you need to know about back-pedal brakes is that pushing back on the pedals forces a set of brake pads to expand inside the hub on the back wheel. Friction then slows the wheel down very efficiently. The downside is that your feet actually have to be on the pedals for this to work – and there’s no backup plan if they’re not. My feet were nowhere near the pedals at this point, having slipped off when the saddle tipped backwards and tried to deposit me on the rapidly rotating back wheel. All I had was precarious balance and a grip of death on the handlebars.

Felicity’s face told me that she fully expected me to slam into the back of the bus at any moment and, considering the rate at which I was bearing down on it, this seemed extremely likely. Immediate evasive action was called for and instinct took over. I swerved out from behind the bus – narrowly missing both it and the on coming station wagon, then swerved back onto my side of the road just as the bus started off again. All this time I was trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to haul myself back onto or over the saddle so that I could get my feet back on the pedals.

I whizzed down the steepest part of the hill and into the long sweeping curve towards the intersection, hoping with every part of me that the traffic lights would be in my favour and that there would be no oncoming traffic. My luck held, the road started to level out, and my speed dropped enough for me to risk the rapid dismount. I leapt clear of my bike whilst keeping hold of the handlebars and running alongside it. It was, after all, my treasure!

We careered to a halt, narrowly missing being clipped by the bus as it trundled past, and fell into an inelegant and only slightly grazed pile right near the bus stop. Felicity made a flying exit from back  of the still-moving bus and rushed to my assistance. Between us we managed to drag my bike to the verge, and then collapsed in a heap, laughing and whooping with the joy of being alive and being 10 years old and invulnerable. There being no actual damage, the parents were never the wiser – but I closely supervised any maintenance of my bike done by others after that!

Bicycles have been part of my landscape since that very first machine. I’ve had racing bikes, mountain bikes, a BMX bike, static exercise bikes and a hybrid bike. They’ve varied in colour from black to pink; silver to blue – but all (except the static bikes) have provided me with unsurpassed levels of independence, adventure and enjoyment. I still ride whenever I can – and every time I see someone else on a bike – whatever their age or gender, whether they’re wearing cutoffs or lycra, barefoot or in expensive cycle shoes – I smile. Rock on, riders, be free!

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On a borrowed racing bike, 1975

My sister and I are off to the epicentre of woollen fashion, fine food and beautiful fibre  at ridiculous o’clock tomorrow morning and my thoughts have thus turned to all things knitty. Yes, I knit – in public and in private, pretty much whenever the opportunity arises and my hands need something to occupy them to pass the time. It requires little in the way of special equipment, is portable, relaxing, sometimes frustrating, can be done in company and generally produces something that’s, at the very least, useful. An all-round winner, really.

I feel as though I’ve always knitted, but in actual fact knitting isn’t something that came naturally to me at all. My first attempts were thrust upon me by hard-hearted junior school teachers who appeared to believe that all girls could (and should!) knit. My tangled, grubby yarn and overt lack of enthusiasm eventually disabused them of this notion, but it took great diligence on my part to achieve this.

Congratulating myself on a narrow escape, I moved on to senior school. To my horror, the knitting-monster was lying in wait when I got there. The teachers ‘encouraged’ all the girls (yes, a girls school) to knit squares every year. These were then sewn into blankets (presumably by the teachers or some gullible mothers) and donated to a local age-care facility that the school helped to support.

It seemed like bad form not to participate and, to my surprise, squares turned out to be something that I could knit. Indeed, by the time I left high school, I could churn out a pretty good square over a couple of days, knitting at recess whilst chatting to friends. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this simple knitting project – and the feeling that I was helping to contribute to a good cause – changed my attitude to knitting and almost certainly encouraged me to develop a social conscience.

angeltop

Angel top 1983

Several years later, a knitting-pro friend encouraged me to try knitting again, starting with something small. She taught by example, become the then-equivalent of my personal YouTube knitting video stream. I could ask her to show me the same thing again (and again) and she’d patiently ‘replay’ the bit I didn’t get without being ‘judgey’ about it. The result is that I’ve dabbled  with fancy stitches, fair isle, used intarsia as a way to create pictures on jumpers for my children, tried socks and created toys. My latest adventure is to join a knitting group and to give interlace knitting a try.

So I guess this means that, whilst I’m certainly not a pro-knitter, I’m no longer a rank novice. This is oddly satisfying, considering the rather rocky start. I’m looking forward to meeting some extreme knitting-nuts, perhaps learning a new technique or two and seeing (and buying) some beautiful yarn.

Bendigo, I hope you’re ready for us!

dungarees1982

Much-loved dungarees 1982

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

This week a friend and I managed to find a last minute booking for what was described as a “quaint, rustic cottage” next to a lake in Bridgetown.  We jumped at the chance and headed off for a few days of sorely needed downtime at the end of a very busy term. The plan was to rest, but also do some writing, photography, drawing and (most importantly) chatting.

I’d been itching to try out my new camera since my birthday, so as soon as we were settled in our distinctly rustic abode I set out to walk around the lake and find something photo-worthy. I soon came across a derelict footbridge (snap), a rose arbour that had fallen into disrepair (no snap, too sad), a very orderly row of fairly young gum trees side by side with a lone fig tree (snap, snap), and a rather palatial kid’s cubby house (snap). All of these were interesting, but none of them stirred me more than superficially.

Then I saw it – a huge river red gum, standing head and shoulders above all the other trees. It was glorious and immediately evocative of a much loved childhood story. Indeed, the first thing sprang to mind as I gazed up at it was ‘It’s the Faraway Tree!’ I could easily imagine Moonface, Silky, the Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot and the rest of characters that paraded through my highly imaginative early childhood hiding somewhere in its branches.

Bridgetown Faraway Tree

Bridgetown Faraway Tree

Our host had placed a bench under the tree and from that vantage point I could gaze up at the enormous trunk as I reminisced. I remembered wishing that I had a tree with a slippery slide built into it so that I could whizz down on a tasselled cushion. What fun that would be!

I found I couldn’t quite stop myself from glancing up at the top of the tree as I thought about the lands that drifted across the top of the Faraway Tree, just in case… Like the storybook version, this is a tree that cries out to be climbed, for children to adventure into, for artists to photograph and paint, and for arboriculturists to conserve. It’s quite magnificent and the childhood memories that it stirred up made me smile each time I looked across the lake at it over the next few days.

Although I’d remembered the names of all the magical characters in the Faraway Tree books, my memory referenced the human characters generically as the children. Out of curiosity, I looked it up as soon as a Wifi connection was to hand and the second or third ‘hit’ I got was a link to the Enid Blyton Society. This provided me with a plethora of information on all things Blyton, including the names of the children in the series (Jo, Fanny, Bessie) and some examples of the lovely illustrations and cover art from the early print runs.

I spent ages pouring over the covers and jumping between examples of some of my favourite early reading matter. Much to my delight I found a listing for the Five Find-Outers Mystery Series. I read these books with alacrity at much the same time as the Faraway Tree series, but subsequently never found the books again. In the intervening years I’ve asked numerous people whether they’ve read them, but no one I know had even heard of the series. Most people went so far as to ask whether I meant the Famous Five, Adventurous Four or even the Secret Seven! So the sense of vindication was actually quite ridiculously strong and decidedly childlike when I discovered that the Finder-Outers and little Buster the dog really do exist in Blyton-land and that I hadn’t made them up.

The combination of the real and imagined trees, the photographs I took and the information and images on the website has been like catching glimpses of a kaleidoscope of my childhood, of a fragmented land that seems to move further away each year. It’s brought them closer together and has made me want to climb more trees and to hunt for adventures – or perhaps it was simply relaxing for a few days that did that.

From The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton. Illustration by Dorothy M. Wheeler, taken from the first edition.

From The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, by Enid Blyton. Illustration by Joseph Abbey, taken from the first edition.